It’s true that the Bible doesn’t speak too highly of dogs. One commentary I consulted suggests that the children of Israel disliked them because they were so highly esteemed by the Egyptians. Even today, some of us use the word “dog” to describe worthless, undesirable or unattractive people.
But these critters are part of God’s creation. And the Bible tells us to give thanks for everything He has provided. So I often thank Him for dogs in general and ours in particular. I like to think it pleases Him that at least some appreciate this particular gift for what it teaches us about our relationship with Him.
I believe it’s safe to say that, like any human, a dog needs both a master and obedience training if he’s going to lead a useful life, even if it’s only as a companion whose most pressing responsibility is warming our feet on a cold winter night. And I think most people would agree with that much, anyway.
But there the agreement seems to end, as people divide into two opposing schools of thought on the subject of obedience training.
There are some who are certain that almost every creature responds best when his master uses both the carrot and the stick – i.e., both reward and correction.
I learned this from my good friend and co-author Amy Ammen, a highly respected dog trainer whose techniques include correction for disobedience – a jerk on the leash, for instance. They are mild corrections; she does not suggest tearing the dog’s head off or beating him. In fact, she blames us owners for their mischief and admonishes us not to correct misbehavior after the fact, when our “live for the moment” dogs have already forgotten whatever it is that has so upset us. (If you’d like to know more, check out our book Hip Ideas for Hyper Dogs.)
But there’s another school of thought that is becoming increasingly popular today. It’s usually called “positive” or “motivational” or “positive motivational” training. What this ordinarily means is that the master uses only rewards to teach his dog, usually in the form of treats. Never under any circumstance will such a master use any correction stronger than a stern or broken-hearted “no!”
Apparently the idea is this: Say you’re walking alongside a busy street with your dog and he suddenly sees a squirrel darting out into traffic. Say furthermore that he has enough leverage to rip the leash out of your hand. Positive training experts insist that all you have to do is call “Rover, treat!” He will stop in his tracks, they assure us, and come running back to you immediately.
I don’t know if it works; I don’t hang out in the city if I can help it, and we have a big fenced-in back yard for our dogs to run around in. But I do know that if a dog has found something interesting, like a bunny’s nest filled with babies or even just mama’s fur, we could yell “treat!” till the cows come home and the dog would ignore us.
The Bible would seem to support the first school of thought – i.e., using both carrot and stick. “He who spares his rod hates his son,” Proverbs 13:24 tells us. “But he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
And that, of course, is why the Lord God lovingly applies both carrot and stick with us – to get and keep our attention, to draw us through the narrow gate to eternal life, and to help us to become more and more like His Son as we complete our journeys through this life.
Bottom line: God expects both love and obedience from His children. Jesus summed up the concept in John 14:15: “If you love Me,” He said, “keep My commandments.”
Should a good master expect any less from his dog?
If so, the Lord has also provided us with a good illustration for that line of thinking. It’s called The Cat.